Beef cattle breeding – all year, or in a season?

Breeding in a beef herd can take place all year, or in a short breeding season. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Use the best one for your needs.

Breeding throughout the year
Leave the bull with the cow herd all year round, but put heifers in the breeding herd when they are ready for mating.

Advantages

  • Cows produce milk all year round. This milk can be used in the household.
  • As the bull stays in the herd, bull management is simpler.
  • Where there is more than one bull, the bulls fight more.Because only a few cows come on heat at a time, one bull can mate with more cows in a year.
  • The average is two bulls per 100 cows.A bull will mate with a cow as soon as she comes on heat after calving.
  • A bull will mate with a heifer as soon as she is heavy enough and comes on heat.

Disadvantages

  • Enough good food is necessary all year round for a good conception rate.
  • Management tasks such as dehorning, vaccination and castration must be done all year round.
  • For artificial insemination, someone has to spot which cows are on heat all year round. 
  • Short breeding season
  • In a short breeding season, cows calve either in spring or in autumn.

Advantages
You can match the feed that is produced and available on the farm to the herd’s feed requirements.
It’s simpler to plan herd and feed management. You can mark, weigh, vaccinate, dehorn and castrate all calves in a day or two. The rest of the year is then free for other tasks.
It’s easier to monitor conception rates and find the cows that don’t conceive.
You can divide weaned calves in same-age groups of at least 10 to 15 animals to test and compare their performance.
You can market animals in same-age groups when the beef price is high.
For artificial insemination, heat spotting is only necessary for a short time.

Disadvantages

  • If a cow doesn’t conceive when the bull is with the herd, she must wait for the next breeding season, losing a year in her productive life.
  • Many cows come on heat in the first six weeks of the breeding season, so you need more bulls to mate with them. The average is four to six bulls for 100 cows, depending on the type of farm, size of the camps and the number of cows in the breeding herd.
  • You must feed and care for the bulls between the breeding seasons. Use strong fences to keep them apart and to prevent fighting. 
  • Heifers must be kept in a separate herd until they are heavy enough for breeding. 
  • Next time, we will look at how to time a breeding season. 

Source: National Department of Agriculture and KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture.